OGDEN — For four quarters, Weber State’s offense got a lesson in what opposing teams feel like when playing against WSU’s defense.

No. 7 Maine forced the No. 2 Wildcats into negative-1 rushing yards and the Black Bears advanced to their first national semifinal in program history, denying Weber State the same by winning a 23-18 decision Friday night at Stewart Stadium.

“That one obviously hurts really bad,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “We had a lot of opportunities and let some things slip away. You’ve got to give Maine a ton of credit. They’re tough, they’re hard-nosed. We knew that coming in. They played great defense.”

Among those missed opportunities came shortly after Weber State took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter. Defensive back Marque Collins picked off Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson by stepping in front of a stop route, giving Weber a 30-yard field — except the play was nullified by an offside WSU player on the other side of the field.

With two minutes left in the first half, Maine had a first-and-goal at the WSU 9 when Parker Preator recorded one of his four pass break-ups on the outside. He narrowly missed catching an interception in full stride with a chance to take it 90 yards for a score.

Instead, two plays later, Ferguson threw a nine-yard TD to Jaquan Blair, giving Maine a 7-3 lead it would ultimately not relinquish.

Weber State totaled 271 yards of offense, not too abnormal for this 2018 squad, but Maine’s stifling run defense forced WSU to become one-dimensional.

That resulted in a 24-of-52 passing night for Jake Constantine for 272 yards and — while trying to mount a comeback with a persistent rush in his face — four interceptions, including three in the fourth quarter.

The Black Bears (10-3) sacked Constantine three times and racked up an otherworldly 13 tackles for loss.

The Wildcats (10-3) appeared to find life late in the third quarter. On a fourth-and-12 from the Maine 33 and trailing 14-6, Constantine successfully evaded pressure, rolled left and lofted a ball to the back of the end zone.

Devon Cooley hauled it in while falling on his back for a score. The play was initially ruled an interception and a touchback for Maine but, after video review, that was reversed and Cooley had a TD. That cut Maine’s lead to 14-12 with 17 minutes to play.

WSU’s defense forced Maine into three short possessions in the fourth quarter, helping the Wildcats to short fields and keeping the game alive. Weber got drive-ending plays from Adam Rodriguez (sack) and Jordan Preator (tackle for loss).

“That was a difficult defense,” Ferguson said. “That was a really good outfit. Well-coached. They gave us problems, obviously. We did what we had to do ... we scored some points when we needed to.”

The Wildcats started a drive with a 45-yard field and nine minutes left but, on the second play, Constantine had to unload the ball early against pressure and was intercepted by Manny Patterson.

With 2:56 left, Maine running back Ramon Jefferson helped put the game away by breaking through a bottleneck on the right side of the line and scampering 45 yards for a touchdown, putting the Black Bears up 20-12.

“Their players made critical plays when they needed to,” Hill said.

Weber’s next drive again ended in an interception when, on the first play, Constantine’s pass was batted at the line of scrimmage by Kayon Whitaker, popped straight up and was hauled in by Maine’s Jaron Grayer.

After WSU used all of its timeouts, Maine’s Kenny Doak put the nail in the coffin by kicking through a 46-yard field goal for a 23-12 lead with 1:34 left.

Weber mounted a 61-yard drive that ended as time expired when Constantine hit Darryl Denby for a 12-yard score, ending WSU’s season at 23-18.

Denby finished his career with a 154-yard receiving game and Cooley added 69.

Defensively, senior LeGrand Toia totaled 10 tackles, including one for loss. Senior Jawian Harrison added eight tackles.

“This is the greatest experience I’ve had in my life,” Toia said after his final game at WSU. “What I’ll take most from this season is what could have been. A lot of us seniors had banked on us going to the national championship. Just to come that close to it, it hurts.”

Weber finished the 2018 season in the same result as 2017 — a quarterfinal loss to the Colonial conference champion. It also compiled the first back-to-back 10-plus win seasons in program history.

“We’re building,” Hill said. “We’ve battled against two really good teams ... we deserve to be in the top eight teams in the country. We’re right there ... we’re close, but we’ve got to take more steps forward. We’ve got to find ways to win these games and we’re still building. The future is very bright.”

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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